The Italian Supreme Court confirms that corporate liability could be attributed to corporations even when the benefit that firms derive from their involvement in the relevant criminal activity is minimal.
In judgment no. 33976 of 2022, the Italian Supreme Court has ruled on the liability of a firm – harvesting and processing grapes and marketing the resulting goods – for injuries suffered by one of its employees due to a work-related accident. This judgment is interesting in that it addresses a relevant practical issue: can a firm that invests a lot in its general safety system be held liable
for an accidental injury occurring due to the lack of a specific protective measure that would represent a minimal corporate cost?
The final answer to this question has been given about ten years after the accident at work took place. In 2012, an employee slipped while working and accidentally placed his left hand in the grape harvesting vat, which lacked a protective grille. As a result, he severely injured his limb. The judges of the first instance convicted the firm even though it adopted a general compliance program because the protective grille was not installed. The appeal judges also confirmed the conviction as they considered that the firm obtained an advantage in not adopting a specific protection system to prevent injury, even if its cost was minimal. Indeed, 1,860 EUR was the estimated cost to install the grille.
In Italy, under Legislative Decree 231 of 2001, a firm can be liable only when a top manager or employee perpetrates one of the predicate offenses expressly included in the list provided for by the decree in the interest of or to the advantage of the company and when it is also demonstrated the firm's failure to adopt and implement an effective compliance program.
In the case at issue, the relevant offense was the crime of criminal personal injuries, which is included in the list of the predicate offenses from which corporate liability may derive as provided for Article 25-septies(3) of Decree 231 of 2001.
The defendants argued that the company spent annual costs of 100,000 EUR and 130,000 EUR to prevent injuries and that there was no systemic violation of health and safety measures at the workplace. In particular, the lawyers argued that the cost savings were too small compared to the general investment in health safety and that there wasn’t any advantage for the company in avoiding adopting the specific measures needed in this case.
Ruling on this point, the Italian Supreme Court (Corte Suprema di Cassazione) has confirmed the company’s conviction and stated that:
a firm’s minimal cost savings (1,860 EUR) is an advantage and that the other arguments put forward by the defendants were irrelevant. More specifically, the entity’s liability cannot be excluded because there are no systemic health and safety systematic violations. Additionally, even minimal cost savings a company achieves does not exclude the entity’s liability.
This decision of the Italian Supreme Court offers the chance to reflect beyond the Italian legal
system on the difference between compliance on paper and compliance in action. To prevent
accidents in the workplace, it is imperative to adopt systems and controls that are effective and
adequate to prevent the specific risk of injury.
Please find below the judicial decision of the Italian Supreme Court in PDF format (in Italian):
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